Monday, November 04, 2013

Imo: Untold Story Of Controversial N3.5 Billion Project

By Mike Ubani, Leadership
Tuesday, November 5, 2013

When he decided to build a 156-room (4 floors) office complex; a skills acquisition centre/automobile/mechanic workshop, and an 88- room hotel complex to be equipped with modern hospitality/training facilities/schools, in Owerri, the Imo state capital, he was propelled by the need to create wealth and reduce the level of unemployment in the state. Beyond that, Governor Rochas Okorocha, unlike his predecessor wanted to leave behind an enduring legacy in the state.  But it appears this vision is fast turning into hallucination.

Reason:  A substantial amount of money initially released by the Imo State government to the contracting firm, Hormipresa Nigeria Limited, to kick-start the projects seem to have vanished into thin air.

According to the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, CEO, Hormipresa Nigeria Limited, Mr. Emmanuel Benjamin Emenike, the company received a mobilization fee of about N1 billion from the Imo state government, out of which the sum of N450 million was paid into the Spanish account of a Spaniard and director of the construction company, Mr. Jose Marin Lopez-Pepe, to enable him travel to Spain to purchase some essential equipment for the execution of the projects.

LEADERSHIP learnt that Lopez-Pepe claimed that his bank in Spain seized the money on the basis that its source was suspect.   The bank, according to Lopez-Pepe, however, demanded an authorization from Imo State government, before it could release the money to the Spaniard.

G. I. Ijeom, permanent secretary, Imo State ministry of lands, survey, housing and urban development, in a letter dated May 9, 2013, with reference No. MLSHUD/C/B.1233/T22C, and addressed to the managing director, Banco Sabadel, SA, Spain, urged the bank to release the money to Hormipresa, to ensure the execution of the projects.

“Information reaching us indicates that this said payment is presently trapped in an NIFPS Account No. ES9800810210190001612762, with your bank.

“We are concerned with the slow performance of Hormipresa Nigeria Limited and thus compelled to request your intervention for the release of the said money to enable them continue work in our projects.
“Kindly take necessary steps to ensure immediate repatriation of this money to Hormipresa as appropriate please, the letter reads in part.

Nevertheless, the Spaniard allegedly disappeared, and only reappeared following his arrest in Lagos by the International Police sometime in April, and was handed over to the Imo State Police Command for prosecution.

He was later brought before a Federal High Court sitting in Owerri, to face criminal charges of stealing and obtaining money by false pretence vide suit No. FHC/OW/CS/24C/2013.

The case was later discontinued following an agreement reached between Mr. Emenike and Lopez-Pepe, and signed by both parties to settle the matter out of court. Mr. Tim Ewerem, signed as witness to the Spaniard, while Chief Macdonald Amadi, signed on behalf of the Government of Imo state.

A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding/Peace Accord entered into by both parties, and dated June 24, 2013, reads in part:

“That following the spirit of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Barrister Joseph Nwadike for the prosecution, Barrister Martin Ojenagbon, for the nominal complainant, Barrister Obiefule M. Ogbonna, Barrister Abiodun Oduwole and Barrister David Diya Ashaolu, for the accused person, unanimously consented to the agreement between both parties for out of court settlement.

“That the Police Prosecuting Counsel (Barrister Joseph Nwadike), shall obtain a bankers order and proceed with same to Spain in the company of Emmanuel Benjamin Emenike, and any of Jose Marin Lopez defence counsel, for the verification of Jose Marin Lopez account and repatriation of funds found therein.

“That the passport or any other travelling document of the accused person, Jose Marin Lopez be kept with the police, to restrict the accused from travelling outside Nigeria until all the funds are verified and/or repatriated to Nigeria.

“That all petitions to the EFCC should be withdrawn by a letter addressed to the EFCC and copied to the Imo State Government, and the Police Prosecuting Counsel.

“That a joint -press conference shall be conducted by the parties to clear ambiguities and other misgivings in respect of this matter.

“That upon the signing of this document, Mr. Emmanuel Benjamin Emenike (Hormipresa Nigeria Limited) hereby authorizes the police prosecuting counsel to withdraw/discontinue the prosecution of the criminal charge No. FHC/OW/CS/24C/2013 – The Federal Republic of Nigeria versus Jose Marin-Lopez, pending before the Federal High Court 1, Owerri, in which Mr. Jose Marin Lopez is standing trial as an accused person before the Federal High Court 1, Owerri.

Meanwhile, it was gathered that the same N3.5 billion contract being handled by Hormipresa has been cancelled by the Imo State government, and re-awarded to an Italian company.

The new company has already moved to site.  An official of the company, who spoke to LEADERSHIP on telephone, said the company was yet to finalize agreement with the Imo State government to take over the construction of those projects already started by Hormipresa.

When contacted on telephone Sunday night, Chief Amadi who signed the peace accord on behalf of the Imo State government told LEADERSHIP that he was behind the wheels, and therefore, was not in a position to answer any question relating to the controversial project.

However, when LEADERSHIP got him again on telephone yesterday morning, he retorted:  “this is a wrong number”, and switched off.

Meanwhile, the management of Hormopresia strongly believes that  Lopez-Pepe, has fled the country despite the existence of a peace accord stipulating the refund of the money, and restriction order placed on him not to travel out of the country until the money in question was repatriated to the country.

In a letter to the deputy inspector general of police, DIG, ‘D’ Department, Force Criminal Investigation Department, C.I.D. Abuja, dated October 10, 2013, Mr. Emenike called on the police to order the re-arrest of Lopez-Pepe and Mr. Tim  Ewerem, as well as  re-instate the criminal charges against the Spaniard, and “also initiate further action to recover the sum of 1.8 million Euros (about N450 million) paid into Lopez-Pepe’s account in Spain”.

The question on the minds of Owerri people is the rationale behind cancelling the contract, and re-awarding it to another contractor, when issues relating to the initial contract award were yet to be sorted out.

A source close to Government House, Owerri, said the issues would be raised when Governor Okorocha reconstitutes his cabinet, and appoints a new commissioner for Lands, Survey and Urban Development.
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